APTA | Passenger Transport
May 24, 2010

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FRA Proposes Ban on Distracting Devices

On May 17, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) proposed a rule that would restrict, with certain exceptions, the use of mobile phones and other potentially distracting devices by on-duty railroad employees.

The proposed rule would codify Emergency Order No. 26, issued last year, which bans the use of any electronic device if it interferes with an employee’s or another employee’s performance of safety-related duties.

Under the proposed rule, cellphone use would be allowed in special instances by railroad operating employees. It also specifically permits the use of watches, calculators, medical devices, railroad radios, cameras used to document bona fide safety hazards or violations of rail safety laws and various emergency situations. Employees who are “deadheading” in any car other than the lead car (the operator’s cab) would be allowed to use electronic devices.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood expressed his support for the proposed FRA rule. “Operating a passenger or freight train demands the full and undivided attention of crew members at all times. Lives depend on it,” said LaHood. “We want to make sure that railroad employees know not to use hand-held devices on the job because doing so jeopardizes safety.”

The proposed rule would also authorize the FRA to review a railroad’s training program regarding the use of electronic devices and would require that records be kept showing that employees continue to receive periodic training on the topic.

“There should be no confusion about when and where cell phones, video games, or PDAs may be used by train crews,” said FTA Deputy Administrator Karen Rae.

Late last year, the APTA Standards Development Program issued a Recommended Practice, Reducing Driver-Controlled Distractions While Operating a Vehicle on Agency Time. It states: “Personal electronic devices … should be turned off, stowed off of the driver’s person and out of sight. These devices should never be used while the vehicle is in motion. Use of these devices should be restricted to times when the vehicle is in parked condition.”

Comments on the notice of proposed rulemaking must be submitted by June 17 (Docket No. FRA-2009-0118).

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